In this painting, on a wagon’s perch, a man, reins invisible on his lap and his face a smudge of umber, further tarnished by the turkey red that day remainders on dusk. And around him, the hauler of fence posts, a dark outline, waxy as the outline of a child’s less practiced hand. Through the body’s black trace glows a little of the background: the going sun, its rusty flare.
Where it all seems to be this way, a little insubstantial around the edges, perhaps either will suffice to weigh us down: a load of fence posts to rut us into the snow and earth on the soft road home or the knowledge that we are not beautiful— at best our clothes hang on us like an angel costume made out of bed sheets hangs on a girl in a pageant, her tinsel halo letting through the dark of the stage curtain drawn behind her as she bows.
A Load of Fence Posts is a painting by Lawren Harris, a member of the Canadian Group of Seven. The painting can be found in the McMichael Gallery, near Toronto.
And conjectures, and offers a few ways to take down the body, the God who carries a taste for blood. On the altar, before him, an empty simple cross, and a purple bouquet, one of which, he doesn’t say, was arranged, and one which happened, he knows, against serious, best judgment—
the way you might extend a hand to an enemy, suspecting the risk, knowing better but offering and retracting your bared palm over time like a bud or a bloom opening to a violet spring sky.
They will not see me, living out of sight down the hill, the white-robed army of monks at prayer, the makers of incense and beds and meals with the smell of God about them.
They might feel me step into their pilgrimage, balancing between the jagged and the smooth stones, paying homage to the rock borders that turn me closer in, farther out, maddeningly away from the center.
This is no way to live a life. How many times have they made these very turns in their cloister, no labyrinth to guide them but only the vague inner nudge?
It is the place where tortuous and torturous merge. I take half an hour; they use half their lives. And for what? A pile of rocks in the center, a single life well lived?
The question, maybe, gives us pause. It does not stop that inexorable pull, like undertow sent to immolate a swimmer beneath the waves,
or the ineffable peace that spreads with every step.
Up north, my wife, Felice, slipped away with emphysema, and my work cruised on without me—accounts balanced, mortgages afloat. My sleep done down here in Florida, I stand looking out a darkened window no one’s looking in. The morning paper never comes too soon with its rites of scandal and opinion. I finger my few stocks’ shifting fractions, consult the weather map’s puzzle,
while the percolator gurgles and sighs. I wait for the light, wait for that moment when Felice appears, pouring my cream, easing my bitterness by asking, “Where will you go today, and who will you carry?”